Mine do. His name is Spongebob Squarepants. Danielle recently hosted a little forum on her blog about families allowing his sponginess' presence in their homes. (Danielle allows him.) There were a lot of moms who said no. Some had objections to content. Some to tv in general. But a few confessed they (and their kids) watched and liked him.
One mom states they were an anti-Spongebob house for a variety of reasons. Then they had an autistic child who responded to the yellow kitchen sponge who lives in a pineapple, has a pet snail and works as a fry cook. They found they could engage their child in ways they were never able to previously through Spongebob. And they became an SB household. In recent months, in speaking with several specialists (speech therapists, play therapists, OTs, psychologists, etc) who work with autistic children I have found that Spongebob is a rare character that seems to engage many autistic children. I learned that there is even a study as to what about this one particular character seems to reach kids that so often will respond to nothing else.
The objections were many, and a lot of moms said they didn't like the "ickiness" of the characters. I have a co-worker who disliked the cartoon for the same reason and told her kids that Spongebob was too "repulsive looking" for them to watch. A few weeks ago, she came to work VERY upset. As it turns out she has a new neighbor who has a daughter her daughter's age. The neighbor's child has severe facial deformities. After a few meetings between the families, the neighbors invited my co-worker's daughter for a play date. When the co-worker asked her daughter if she would like to go, the little girl said, "No. She is too repulsive looking, just like Spongebob." My co-worker was mortified, even more so because two other neighbors were over at the time and heard the exchange. I understood what upset my co-worker most is that she greatly underestimated her four-year-olds ability to translate her mom's dislike of a character into a dislike of real people. In a way I understood her, but I also felt like it was all to easy to make an assumption that kids wouldn't understand what she "really" meant.
Kids are pretty savvy. They understand a lot more subtleties than we truly give them credit for. We act shocked when a child repeats profanity, but what do we really expect. If they hear it being used, they assume it is okay for use. Especially if the person saying it is a parent, older sibling, grandparent or other trusted adult. And we make it worse when we pass it off as, well, they don't really know what they are saying. They may not be sophisticated thinkers, but small kids can make inferences. In fact, that's how they learn about a lot in their world.
You can ban Spongebob, you can allow him. Same with any other cartoon. One does not make you a better parent than another. And while we should be honest with our children in our decisions, we should also be clear. Had my co-worker explained to her child ahead of time that this is a cartoon character, not a real person, perhaps the child would not have turned the rationale on another human. But, then again, children crave consistency and it gets sticky with the world of make-believe.
A mother at daycare recently told me she did not allow her children to watch a locally produced show that included martial arts because of the violence. The show actually is about empowering kids and shows how kids should use discipline. In fact, most people don't put their kids into martial arts programs to exercise a violent outlet, but for the discipline these eastern arts teach. But I digress. I could understand this woman's initial resistance until she added this statement, "I only allow my kids to watch Boomerang, and Looney Tunes." I hope she did notice the look I gave her when she mentioned Looney Tunes. I love Bugs Bunny too, but if violence was her objection, what about "Duck Season, Rabbit Season," Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, or the endless anvil dropping. I mean, is it okay for a duck and a rabbit to suggest that Elmer Fudd shoot one over the other? This violence is acceptable because it's animated creatures, or because it wasn't a big deal when mom was a little girl and her parents allowed her to watch it? I have only caught the local martial arts program a few times and it mostly includes kids breaking boards and bricks, talking about how the "program" helps them to focus in school, and even has included a few segments about students being bullied and finding a non-violent way to stop it. Yes, there are some scenes of sparring with pads on under the tutelage of an instructor, but we aren't witnessing kids "jumping" each other on the playground. It struck me that unless this mom's kids pointed guns at each other yelling, "duck season! Fire!" she probably wouldn't realize the violent nature of the animated creatures.
There are no hard and fast rules for allowing one program over another with most children's progamming. And while we should all be aware what our children are watching and the lessons they are learning, there has, in recent years, developed a generation of "super-hyper-vigilant" parents who reject much of the programming they see that is new while allowing much older programming that often extols the same "values." It doesn't help to harbor under the delusion that older is always better.
And there is the temptation to get rid of the television altogether. I understand this sentiment as well. We very often feel we will build a better, smarter, more skilled, more Catholic child with no television.
The bottom line is, good parenting is good parenting, tv or no tv, Spongebob or no Spongebob. Good children will come out of homes that don't own a television and those that do. Productive citizens will have grown up watching Nickelodeon and just not. Good Catholics will be made from kids who only watched EWTN kids and those that might not have.
As the year comes to an end, we see many "lists" come out. One of my favorites this year is over at Celebrity Baby Blog where they are debating the ten best and ten worst celebrity baby names of 2008. I agree with some of them and not so much with others. So I came up with my own: Worst:
1) Zuma Nesta Rock Rossdale (son of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale)...I mean really, this kid is going to be in therapy for a LONG while.
2) Knox Leon Jolie-Pitt (son of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt)...I'll admit, could be worse, but this one makes me think of Knox gelatin.
3) Bronx Mowgli Wentz (son of Ashlee Simpson-Wentz and Pete Wentz)...this name is just awful. I really wanted Ashlee Simpson to be a good mom who proved people wrong about her. This name does the exact opposite.
4) Jagger Joseph Blue Goldberg (daughter, yes DAUGHTER, of Soleil Moon Frye and Jason Goldberg) Okay, so Soleil Moon Frye has the excuse when it comes to odd names, but Jagger and Joseph for a GIRL? Come on sweetie, you're not doing anything to help the cause that Hollywood kids can grow up normal.
5) Ignatius Martin Upton (son of Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton)... I will admit I feel guilty about adding this one because I love that Cate Blanchett is so open about naming her son after a Catholic saint (she openly admits he is named after Ignatius of Loyola) but his nick-name, Iggy, as in Pop, ugh!!!
6)Viggo Moriah Hanson (son of Taylor and Natalie Hanson)...can anyone say Lord of the Rings? And Moriah, I mean, I understand it's a Biblical mountain, but is this kid gonna get teased or what?
7) Buster Miller (son of Jonny Lee Miller and Michele Hicks) ok, Jonny Lee Miller is Angelina Jolie's first husband. That is no excuse for giving your son a dog's name!
8) Peanut Rademacher (son of Ingo Rademacher and Ehiku) The name came, wait for it, from the picture of the little guy on his first ultrasound. My kids looked like peanuts too. It's a nickname, not something to scar your kid with in high school!
9)Kadence Clover Hawk (daughter of Tony Hawk and Lohtse Hawk) so Tony Hawk finally has a baby girl, and we have the lovely alliteration gone bad. Personally Clover makes me think of a cow chewing cud. And I have a friend who named her daugther Cadence. Cadence Ann. I think it should be a law, unusual first name must be paired with a normal middle name.
10) Rain Amethist Ryan (son of Lee Ryan and Samantha Miller) how is this a boy name?
1) Honor Marie Warren (daugther of Jessica Alba and Cash Warren) a virtue name that is not overused and Marie is a well suited middle name.
2) Harlow Winter Kate Madden (daughter of Nichole Richie and Joel Madden) Harlow is a look back at old Hollywood and while Winter is not conventional, it has been used in the early part of the 20th century and Kate puts a nice normal spin on it. And who would have thought Nicole Richie would be the type of mom to insist on breastfeeding and making her own baby food.
3) Vivienne Marcheline (daughter of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) in honor of Angie's late mom Marcheline Bertrand and her French-Canadian heritage. It also has an elegance not often found in baby names these days.
4) Stella Doreen McDermott (daughter of Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott) in following Tori's heritage and naming your child after a loved one who has passed, little Stella's middle name Doreen was the name of Dean's late mother.
5) Olive Cohen (daughter of Sasha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher) something simple and classic from two over the top actors.
6) Samuel Kai Schreiber (son of Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts) the simplicity of the first name and the exotic middle name (beautiful in Hawaiian) make this little guy a winner!
7) Alexander (Sasha) Pete Schreiber (son of Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts) don't know about how I feel abot Sasha as a boy's nickname, but this little guy has a solid name to fall back on if and when he out grows it.
8) Thomas Boone Quaid (son of Dennis and Kimberly Quaid) his name means twin and he is one. The poor little guy fought for his life at ten days old, and proved maybe a strong biblical name doesn't guarantee strength but seeing is believing.
9) Zev Isaac Miller (son of Marisa Jaret Winour) the hairspray star chose a name that honors her Jewish heritage without sounding so outrageously ethnic as some others.
10) Levi Alves McConaughey (son of Matthew McConaughey and Camille Alves) simple, biblical, mom's maiden name as a middle name. Unique but not so far out.
So what about you? Any baby names that riled you up or made you say "Yes! Someone normal in Hollywood!"
Over at Inside Catholic, Danielle Bean has a great column about large families in mass culture. In it, she describes how, despite their not being married, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, are promoting a family culture. A LARGE family culture. This broke down in the comboxes as "yes, by and large in the secular world, large families are an oddity and a curiousity at most, but they are the norm in the Catholic faith." But this was followed up by a great conversation about how many in the church show prejudice and judgment of those families in the pews whose ranks are not sporting a baseball team.
I try to live my life by, judge not, lest thou be judged. I find it's a pretty good policy because we never know another's circumstances just from appearances. But some of the harshest judgments I have ever heard were by Catholic women, in church, about other families. A woman in my church has only two children. Her two girls are her source of joy. She would have loved to have a platoon of kids, but that wasn't to be. I was sitting by myself one Sunday and saw her come in with her girls and husband, genuflect and sit down. She smiled and waved to me (we are acquainted) and I returned the gesture. Behind me, I heard a growl. I didn't turn around as I knew the couple sitting behind me. Not well, and I don't plan on getting to know them that well, but, I have met them. I heard the woman behind me's voice to her husband, "I can't believe they can go up and receive communion when they are so blatantly using birth control!" I prayed for God to give me strength. I prayed for God to give me self-control. I prayed this woman would stop the sin of gossip. I prayed she would realize she was wrong about this. The woman with the two children does not use birth control. She doesn't need to. Like a member of my family, she nearly died during a vbac birth when her uterus ruptured and she almost bled out. A hysterectomy was performed to save her life. I was part of a prayer chain the prayed for her when it was uncertain if she would survive. And in talking to her after her second daugther was born, I found out she didn't want the vbac. She wanted a repeat c-section, but her SAHM Catholic mothers playgroup convinced her she had not experienced birth because of her c-section with her first daughter, a transverse postioned baby. I was aghast that these women in her group had treated her that way. Even moreso because, okay, now she had a "natural birth" and almost a "natural death."
"Had I listened to my own heart and not worried about the judgment of others, I could have had more children," she said woefully to me at the time. I wished this woman sitting behind me could have heard that.
One commenter to the article about the Jolie-Pitts stated that Catholics are now becoming "contraception-minded" and part of the culture of death. Her reasoning made perfect sense to me. Because of their "openness to life" many in our pews feel it is their duty to be the inquisition where the reproductive lives of others are concerned. Now, I am not talking about abortion here. That is wrong, we all know it. But as this commenter stated a common and prevailing them from many moms (and sometimes dads) of large families: "If you WEREN'T contracepting, then clearly God would give you as many kids as he gave us!" Sadly, I've seen and heard it all.
And it is precisely this attitude that brings me to the second item I discovered recently. Over at Crunchy Con, Rod Dreher is taking a break and Erin Manning is filling in for him. She posted recently about an NYT review of a new book chronicling an infertile couple's quest to have a child by surrogacy. She went on to mention how many poor women are deciding to become surrogates to help supplement their income and the moral and ethical implications of surrogacy. (A warning, I LOVE this blog, but some of the commenters are a bit "colorful" so, know the sensitivity of your constitution before wandering the comboxes.) The commenters blew up, Rod, taking a break from his break, turns this into a "liberals v conservatives" debate again and there is a lot of space, waste--er devoted--to this by some of the commenters, but there are also some who just question the overall morality and the ethical question. One male commenter points out that having biological children is not a right. Several commenters point out that they know people who were unable to conceive naturally and went to adoption only to have the door slammed in their faces. But, very quietly, a few posters remind that having one's own biological children is a standard among which many are judged in our culture.
And so it is. While the culture at large does put a price on carrying on your family name, as Catholics we often wrongly put real pressure on people to conceive and carry their own children.
We are, after all, the denomination that adores Mary (we do not worship her) for being the woman that carried Christ. Just yesterday, we celebrated the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Monday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We revere the family unit. We ask pregnant women to come forward for a "special" blessing on Mother's Day. We pray that "blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus."
I don't disagree with any of this. But all of this allows some members of our church to justify judging others. When a woman is unable to conceive, there is a deep and profound sense of loss that cannot fully be understood by someone who has not gone through it. Before having my own children, my husband and I went through a period of infertility due to an anatomical abnormality of mine that had to be surgically corrected. As I watched friends become pregnant while we were trying and month after month went by, I kept thinking, something is wrong with me. What are they doing that I'm not? What have I done to anger God so much that this we can't have a baby? I would pray at my church's chapel to Our Lady of Guadalupe for forgiveness, I would ask God what I should do to repent. No one I knew personally was going through this, and my husband and I felt very alone. I would see large families at mass. I would watch baptisms. I would think, will this ever be me? I knew the church was against IVF and IUI. I knew surrogacy was out of the question even if the church allowed it because of money. I was from a large family, no one else in recent history had fertility problems as a young person in their 20's, I just didn't get it.
I look back on that now and see that although no one said anything to my face, seeing so many with their own babies and large families, did play into my psyche that something was wrong with me. It makes me wish the Catholic church would promote blessings on Mother's and Father's days of people unable to become parents (not one where you get called out to the altar, but a general one). After all, I had looked into adoption too, and that was very prohibitive and almost more difficult than fertility treaments. The general lack of support I have written about before from many Catholics for adoption (by adopting themselves) also discouraged me.
I can very easily see where many couples would be tempted by judgment of others as well as a lack of support for adoption and a feeling of inadequacy due to culture within the church to seek out fertility treatments. While biological children are certainly not a right, there are many out there who see them as a responsibility and if you can't do it on your own, well, then are you really a responsible Catholic in good standing? And the Bible is a bit murky on this for us. After all, Sarah, desparate for a child, gives Hagar to Abraham and we have our earliest known surrogate. And Hannah prays for a son while we are told her husband's other wife is fruitful and multiplying.
We must stop judging one another. We must realize that there are pains for families both large and small. As much as it galled me when a friend said she didn't think she would have more than two children because she and her husband would be outnumbered (forgetting she was a third child evidentally), I find it every bit as wrong for someone with eight to say that the mom of one must be contracepting.
Instead, we should all be praying for one another. We should be loving each other. We should stop thinking of "our family" v "their family" and think of ourselves as the ONE body of Christ. We should realize that all families have their unique struggles and respect those. We must promote adoption as a way to increase the body of Christ. Adoption of the disabled as well as the healthy, the babies that look like us vs those who do not. If we take on these challenges, we will be true promoters of life.